My Photography Methods and Tips

My photography methods and tips

Hi all. A bit of a different post this week. I know a lot of sewers are active on Instagram, or on blogs, or both, and sharing photos is quite a big part of interacting with the online community…Whether you’re a keen online photo sharer or just want to share the odd make on Instagram and join in a couple of IG challenges from time to time, taking photos is a challenge in itself. I’m hoping that by sharing some of my own photography methods and tips they might prove useful to you.

I’m going to add a huge caveat here before I get going though…I’m by no means a professional or an expert and I still have a lot to learn but over the last couple of years I’ve picked up a lot of useful techniques that have helped me so far on my photographic journey and I’ve always had an interest in photography, but, without further ado…let’s begin…

My Camera Equipment

Firstly, like pretty much everyone else, I have the camera on my phone. I recently upgraded my Samsung and although it’s not the niftiest most expensive recent model it has a better camera on it than my old phone, so I’ll use that for flat-lays and impromptu OOTD selfies etc.

My main camera which I got last January is a DSLR. It’s the Nikon D750 and I adore it. I’d been lusting after it for ages and when my mum offered to help me buy it, I was totally over the moon. Before that, I was using my late dad’s old Nikon D40. My D750 is a full-frame sensor and the D40 is a cropped sensor. Basically, it means that my newer camera enables me to take photos with a bigger field of view, it also has a better sensor for low light conditions.

My photography methods and tips
My Nikon D750

I use two prime lenses with my Nikon…a 50mm F/1.8 which is a wonderful all-rounder and gives very true-to-life proportions and my recent purchase (early Xmas pressie) a Sigma 35mm F/1.4  wide-angle lens which will be better for shooting indoors where space is tight. Out of the two, I prefer the 50mm lens or the ‘nifty fifty’ as photographers often refer to them.

My photography methods and tips
My ‘Nifty Fifty’ Lens and my Camera Remote

I also have a long-range camera remote, a sturdy tripod plus a large photographic light which I use occasionally indoors when light is bad. 

Both of my lenses have wide aperture capabilities and I love to shoot at the widest setting as it lets in lots of light… In fact, when I use the wide settings I rarely use my photography lights indoors. If you use a DSLR with a similar lens set up I recommend that you get someone or something to stand where you will be standing so that you can fix your focus point when using a wide aperture, because the depth of field is shallow so focussing is more challenging. But before I delve too deep, let’s get on to some general photography tips first :

  • Want a blurry soft focus background with your DSLR? Get your subject nearer to the camera and further away from the background with your aperture set wide open. Some phone cameras have a special setting for soft-focus backgrounds so check out your phone settings for that
  • Want your legs to look lean and long? Set your camera tripod at no higher than midriff level. If your hubby/partner takes your outfit photos, ask him/her to crouch or kneel down. There’s nothing worse than fore-shortened legs when a photo is taken from a too-high viewpoint.
  • Try to take photos when the light is good but not harsh. Avoid high contrast situations with light and shade if you’re outdoors. Many photographers suggest that one of the best times is ‘golden hour’ when the sun is setting. A day with light, bright and high cloud cover is good too. If you’re indoors try to get near a window. I like a side-lit position and it’s nice if you turn your face to the light or even try facing the window directly for a lovely even flat light (great also for video chats if you put your laptop or phone with its back to the window :)). Avoid turning on an overhead light as it gives a weird yellow glow to the top of your head and a yellow tinge to your whole photo.
  • This is my personal preference but if I’m wearing a busy print I like to stand in front of a fairly plain background and I feel that a non-patterned outfit stands out in front of a busier background. I also consider the colours in my clothes and I often go for complementary shades or tonal opposites. So if I’m wearing olive green, for instance, it can look eye-catching in front of a red-toned brick wall which is the complementary colour for green. I will also wear light-toned garments in font of darker backgrounds and vice versa. For example, I wanted to highlight this top so I sat in front of dark bushes: 
  • If you want to take sewing detail shots, do a flat lay, or click a photo of some work-in-progress and want a nice background, why not try what I’ve done…get some large pieces of cardboard and cover them in sticky-backed plastic (I call it Fablon). I have some cardboard and on one side it’s covered in a wood-panelled effect and on the other is a marble effect. All sorts of colours and patterns are available in the sticky-backed plastic and it’s so easy and cheap to do.
  • If you use your phone for solo photos try one of these little bendy tripods which are great for positioning in all sorts of situations. You can even wrap the legs around branches or bits of furniture.
  • Try practising your poses for outfit photos in front of a mirror first. Some clothes look better when you stand a certain way so see what looks best first. I’ve even been known to put a free standing mirror behind my tripod for instant feedback on how I’m standing and what looks best.
  • Vary your blog images so that they aren’t all of you standing in the exact same position. Try a close-up detail, a half body shot, side view etc.
  • This is a personal preference of mine as I know not everyone likes to wear makeup but I always prefer to take blog photos with some on. I have non-existent eyebrows for starters, so my face would lack definition if I didn’t use a little eyebrow pencil and I also have dark under-eye shadows so concealer is my friend. 

Let’s talk editing…

Dont underestimate the power of a little bit of editing before you post your photos online. At the very least you can brighten an image, increase the contrast if needed, make your colours more saturated if they look washed out and crop/straighten. If you use your mobile phone most of these setting will just be built in to access when you view your images. Quick tip: turn on the grid in your phone camera settings to make it easy to get straight images. 

Photo editing apps that I like to use on my phone are Snapseed, Lightroom and  Inshot, which are all available as free options.

General Tips For Phone Editing

  • Have you ever taken a photo indoors in artificial light that looks all yellowy? Go into your editing settings and adjust the temperature (also called white balance) to a cooler level . The same applies if your colours look too cold-toned…you can ‘warm’ them up.
  • Do you struggle to get the details on black clothes to show up? If you use Snapseed or Lightroom apps you can go to the ‘Shadows’ setting and lighten them up. This makes a huge difference and is much better than just increasing the brightness.
  • Try to keep your vertical and horizontal lines level using the ‘straighten’ settings…sometimes found within the ‘rotate’ settings.
  • If you get frustrated that the colours of your garment in your photos don’t look right even if you increase the saturation or brightness then help is at hand. If you use the mobile Lightroom app you can go into settings for each individual colour. For instance, if you have a green that looks too cool-toned no matter what you’ve tried on the whole photo you can change just the green colour within your photo. You can make it more blue-toned or yellowy-toned, make it darker or brighten it. Just be aware that changing some colours can affect skin tones, so use a light touch with reds, yellows and oranges.
My photography methods and tips
The colour settings screen on Lightroom Mobile app
  • Sharpen your images if they lack a little definition. When you’re actually taking your photo you can do a long press on your phone screen on the part of the image you want most in focus and this ‘sets’ your focus point. Otherwise you can increase the sharpness within editing afterwards.

I use my DSLR camera exclusively for blog outfit photos and when I first started out taking blog photos with my old camera I just used the auto setting and took standard jpeg images which of course is absolutely fine. However, I decided I wanted to take things a bit further with my photography and though I still haven’t tried going fully manual on my camera I love to use the ‘aperture priority’ setting. 

By using aperture priority mode you get to dictate how much light gets to your camera sensor through the aperture. A small number like F/2.0 means that the opening is wider so more light gets in. Whatever F setting you use the other settings are adapted automatically to work with that. Why not try it out for yourself?

Another thing that I’ve been doing over the last two years is to shoot RAW. I remember feeling totally phased at the idea of trying it out at first but I wouldn’t return to jpegs now. Basically speaking, when you shoot in the RAW setting on your camera it captures all of the data from the camera sensor and it doesn’t get converted to a jpeg within your camera. RAW files are much bigger than standard jpeg but produce really high-quality images, in fact, the difference in colour depth is fabulous. When you edit a RAW photo you never lose the original file. You do your edits and save as a jpeg but the original file is always retained so you can go back to the editing software and revert the file back to where you started and edit it in a totally different way without losing any quality.

Talking of editing RAW files…I use Lightroom for desktop to edit them. You can pay a monthly subscription of about £10, but I managed to get hold of the software on Amazon two years ago for a one-off fee of £100. When I first started to use it I had no clue what some of the features did so I stuck with the basics of brightness, contrast, highlights and shadows etc. But gradually I’ve learned to use most of the features. I found several Youtubers that make fabulous tutorials for Lightroom. Here are a few:

Signature Edits by Ryan…Tutorials from beginners upwards

Lucy Martin…Great beginner tutorials I like her style of tutorials a lot.

Anthony Morganti…Very in-depth tutorials. A little more technical at times

Julia Trotti…Love this Aussie lady. Not that many tutorials by her but I love to watch her portrait photoshoots and she does fab lens comparison videos. She loves to shoot with wide aperture settings and I got my own love of taking backlit photos from her too. 

After watching these Youtubers and gaining confidence I now feel like I have more of a grip on my editing process and I can use the HSL/colour panel, the tone curve (a bit), radial and gradual filters and  the clone tool (handy for getting rid of unsightly bits and bobs like scuffs on shoes for instance). All this is to say, that if you fancy taking your photography further and trying RAW don’t hesitate. Just start with the basics and you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Wow, this turned in to quite a long blog post. If you stuck with me to the end, then congratulations you earned a boiled sweet!

I hope you found my tips helpful and if you did why not bookmark this post for later. Let me know in comments if you have tried anything new in your photo taking lately. 

Right oh, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s back to sewing next week on my blog, so see you then!

Oh and PS… if you squint at the leading photo there’s a sneak peek of my latest sewing project on my dressform in the background 😉

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2 Comments

  1. Joan
    November 7, 2020 / 6:35 pm

    Love all of this helpful info, Diane. Despite being a graphic designer, I haven’t ever mastered basic photography and my (old) Photoshop skills were barely serviceable when I worked professionally. So I definitely will refer back to this blog!

    • diane
      Author
      November 7, 2020 / 8:56 pm

      Thank you, Joan! Glad to hear that it might come in useful

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